U.S. NRC Blog

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Getting Ready for Winter Looks Much Like Preparing for Hurricanes

Neil Sheehan
Public Affairs Officer
Region I

coldweatherAt first glance the blizzard that pounded the upper Midwest on Christmas weekend – or the winter storm that hit New England over New Year’s — doesn’t seem to have much in common with the hurricanes that hit the Gulf Coast or Eastern Seaboard during the hot summer months.

But from our perspective, they do.

NRC regulations requires that U.S. nuclear power plants be ready for all kinds of weather conditions, and that extends to winter storms.

The preparations take many forms. Here are some of the key activities:

  • Plant operators keep close tabs on approaching storms via weather forecasting services. Storm watches or warnings would clearly attract attention.
  • As a storm draws closer, information gathered from the facility’s meteorological towers is assessed. These data points would include wind speed/direction and snowfall rates. Specific conditions, such as wind speeds exceeding a pre-designated threshold, can result in operators starting to shut down the reactor, or reactors, at a plant site.
  • Prior to a storm arriving in the area, plant personnel would conduct visual inspections of plant grounds. They would check that there were no loose items that could be propelled by strong winds and potentially damage equipment.
  • Workers would also ensure that fuel tanks for emergency diesel generators were filled. These generators can provide back-up power for plant safety systems should the local electrical grid go down.
  • Plans would also be developed to keep the plant appropriately staffed until the storm had passed. This might mean providing cots and food for employees unable to get home due to the weather conditions.

Amid all of these preparations, the NRC Resident Inspectors assigned to each plant would follow the progress of these activities while also tracking expected conditions at the plant. They, too, could be asked to stay at the facility until the storm had passed.

The old adage that success is “90 percent preparation and 10 percent perspiration” is one taken seriously when wicked weather is bearing down.

 

5 responses to “Getting Ready for Winter Looks Much Like Preparing for Hurricanes

  1. Public Pit Bull January 5, 2017 at 1:17 pm

    Excellent comments all! The NRC has a symbiotic relationship w the nuke industry. One hand wash’s the other. Pilgrim is certainly a glaring example. We often hear of overregulation being a problem especially with regard to the EPA. With the NRC it is sadly completely the opposite. And the reason is quite simple. You simply cannot properly regulate an industry whose very survival you depend on. If we really are serious about protecting public health & safety put the EPA in charge of regulating the nuke industry. If any industry needs overregulation it is the nuke industry. If all current nuke regulations were fully enforced the industry would soon cease to exist. The marriage between the regulator & the regulated needs to be annulled!

  2. William Maurer January 3, 2017 at 10:23 am

    Nor’eaters and Blizzards make evacuations impossible in the Northeast. In Plymouth, Massachusetts Pilgrim’s switch yard has ground faulted causing LOOP events resulting in reactor Scrams nine (9) times in severe winter weather conditions, blizzards and Nor’easters since the Blizzard of ’78’. You never shut down Pilgrim as a precaution in advance of NOAA Blizzard Warnings until concerned citizens connected the dots for you after Nor’easter Juno in January 2015. The Union of Concerned Scientists categorized the Juno Scram as a ‘Close Call’ because it was complicated by additional safety equipment failures during the Scram. Here you are bragging about playing heads up ball with winter preparedness…PHOOEY!. You haven’t walked the talk at Pilgrim. Looks like 38 years of willful reckless gambling with public safety to me…until you got caught!

    • stock January 3, 2017 at 12:55 pm

      William, I agree entirely. The ground fault arcing is and was totally predictable, but they take no action to mitigate, much less, god forbid, shut down the reactor.

      We almost lost Boston. Nuke plants have “defense in depth” but those systems are rarely tested or inspected, and common cause failure modes are WAY underestimated. Backup Generators are not tested under load, nor are they tested powering the critical circuits.

      At Pilgrim, every line of defense had failed, except the last one. If that one had failed, a large radiation release would have occurred.

      Under Trump, I think the NRC will need to get tough and start regulating, including shutting plants down either permanently or as a penalty for negligence.

      • William Maurer January 3, 2017 at 2:24 pm

        Right. The NRC has never made Pilgrim under both BECO and Entergy’s ownership fix the switch yard. Entergy forgot to send the insulators that failed in the 2014 LOOP during a Nor’easter out to the lab for testing. The insulators were reported as being discovered (tripped over) in storage in the January 26, 2015 Supplemental Inspection Report (pp 4, I believe). The NRC obviously didn’t even follow up on the Root Cause Determination and Corrective Action Plans of the switch yard ground fault during the 2014 LOOP/Scram. Obviously neither Entergy or the NRC had or have any intention of repairing the weaknesses and vulnerabilities in Pilgrim’s switch yard…..Incredible!

  3. Paul E. Schwartz January 3, 2017 at 10:18 am

    Since in many cases low pressure from winter storms can be lower than some hurricanes, the threat of flooding and exceeding intake/discharge EAL limits is always possible; especially if the storms remain over the area for several tidal cycles – also something more common in winter storms than hurricanes, which have a tendency to move in and out of the area quicker (except for Sandy of course. Great read and thank you for sharing

    PESchwartz

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